Nude for the people of Coventry
If Lady Godiva (circa
11th century A.D) attempted her famous ride today, she would
be arrested for public indecency. What most people donít know is that
her naked ride through the town of Coventry was done for social good;
the good of the people.
Leofric, Earl of
Mercia, and husband to Godiva, was a man whoís many interested were
loosely based in public acknowledgement. His lady wife was a
good-hearted soul, constantly nagging her wealthy husband about the
In 1043, the earl and
his wife funded an abbey in Coventry in an attempt to better educate the
clergy. The earl became quite immersed in public works, imposing tax
after tax to help fund what he saw as needed facilities and services.
Lady Godiva, in her
own view, felt that the arts held some measure of culture for the people
of Coventry, but failed to understand that the general population spent
all of its time merely surviving. They didnít have the time or
interest in the arts; their main focus being shelter, food and livestock
in an effort to counter the continuously increasing taxes.
Knowing the peasants
cared little for aesthetics, the Earl reminded his lady wife that the
ancient Greeks and Romans considered the naked body to be a thing of
beauty and that the gods stood in favor of nudity as an expression of
beauty. He agreed to stop the taxes (except on horses, a tax in place
before his administration) if his wife would ride through the
marketplace at midday in nude and glorious splendor, proving to the
population that the nude body was a thing of beauty.
Shocked, he listened
as his wife agreed.
On the appointed day,
accompanied by two fully clothed women on horses, Lady Godiva rode
through the crowded marketplace. No hair draped her shoulders. This bit
of fiction was later put into the story by chaste clergy. She wore her
hair plaited and pulled up, showing her naked splendor to all who cared
As promised, her
husband ceased his taxing and Godivaís ride brought greater prosperity
to the town of Coventry. To this day, the administration uses the image
of her atop the horse in their crest. Some say this is a tale of
fiction, others find there is too much evidence to write it off as the
work of imagination.
Whichever is the
case, Lady Godiva and her naked ride shows the passion with which she
cared not only for art, but the people of her province as well.